LAST week, Jodie Prenger was centre-stage at Newcastle Theatre Royal as the tour of her one-woman show Shirley Valentine drew to a rousing close.

In January, she’s back at the same venue in the new production, Fat Friends the Musical, with a cast that is due to include ex-England cricket star Freddie Flintoff.

“Rehearsals have been kind of crazy,” admits the singer, actress and presenter, who is also going to fit a pantomime run into her busy career.

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“Yeah, two major roles at the same time/. I’ve never done that. I’d like to say I’ve celebrated with a gin, but I haven’t had time. I feel it’s like somebody else paying your admittance to the funfair. It is hard work, but I wouldn’t change if for the world. These are two really good companies and even though I am tired, I don’t see much of the world past 11pm,” Prenger jokes.

On landing the non-singing part of Shirley in Willy Russell’s play, which became a memorable 1989 film starring West End show actress Pauline Collins, Prenger feels that if a certain role is meant for you then it won’t pass you by.

“I’m so glad it didn’t. I got the job literally through a phone call and when you get asked to do something like Shirley Valentine you instantly scream a thousand yeses. Then you go, ‘It’s a one-woman show’. I’ve done a one-woman musical, but nothing prepares for this and I’m now thinking of running for Prime Minister. I’d include a free holiday to Greece every year of course,” she says.

She met Glen Walford, who commissioned and directed the 1986 production in Liverpool, and then found herself chatting to Willy Russell. “We started rehearsals in February of last year and I’m sad to think that Newcastle is my last week. I’ve had a great time with it. People coming to see it have asked me, ‘Is it a musical?’ but there’s no singing at all. You hear all these actors saying that it’s all in the script, when you do have a writer like Willy Russell then it is in there and, I hate to say this, but it is a joy. You almost feel that you’re not the only person on stage because you are having a conversation with the audience. It’s like they are sitting there in your kitchen and it’s so poignant and probably more poignant now that it was 30 years ago because we are all living our lives, but none of us seem to go and do what we want to do,” says Prenger.

She jokes about wishing she’d had bought some shares in Thomson Holidays because the plot of a middle-aged woman flying off to Greece for a break appeals to so many in the audience.

“Willy Russell told me that Shirley Valentine on her best day is very honest and on her worst day is as honest as they come. The kitchen is her domain and when she gets to Greece you see the true Shirley. I think this really resonates with the audience. We do the same things day in and day out, but we never take that chance and go to somewhere like Greece. That could mean learning to play the guitar or go to tap dancing,” says Prenger.

Perhaps the fascination of wish-fulfilment is how she took being approached about being the perfect choice for a woman who needs to go on a diet in the stage adaptation of Kay Mellor’s impressive TV series.

“I got the call and had lunch with Kay Mellor and as I loved the series I knew it was what gave James Corden, Sheridan Smith and Ruth Jones their big break. I relate to this because weight has always been part of my life and when I read the script and looked at the songs I just got the whole idea. So, I definitely jumped at the whole idea.

“I thought the plot is really empowering particularly in an age where we are taken over by Facebook. People put so many filters on publicity shots now that you don’t know how true they are. People who are 105 can be made to look like they’re 27. I think the best thing is that you have to be really happy with yourself. This is a nice message to have out there,” says Prenger.

Fat Friends, which was set in Leeds, ran from 2000 to 2005, sees Prenger take the role of Kelly Stevenson who is desperate to lose enough weight to fit into her wedding dress.

After being reminded that she brought out her own weight loss DVD, Jodie’s fitness Blasts, in 2014, Prenger replies: “Look, I had to keep working and I also drank the prosecco and ate the cheeseboard contents to put it all back on. That’s why I love this script because it talks about man boobs and the F Plan and Atkins Diet. I know I’d going to look out there and see smiles of recognition from the audience. We’ve all been there before and done it.

“My character in this is really bubbly and confident and happy in their own skin. She and Kevin (Freddie Flintoff) live in a gorgeous bubble and it’s only the fact that she falls in love with a particular dress that means she has to lose weight,” she says.

Prenger leaps to the defence of Flintoff, who was recently featured on BBC’s The One Show struggling to hold a note. “If you haven’t got your end game in front of you, you can’t talk about how badly someone sings. I am sure if you go on YouTube there will be plenty of footage of me singing badly. It’s sod’s law that the TV programme will always show the worst thing. I think his singing is fabulous. It really is. He’s never said that he can’t sing in front of me. Freddie’s been brilliant and the whole company has shown a ‘roll-the-sleeves-up’ attitude. It’s not often that we celebrate the start of a new British musical,” she says.

Fat Friends the Musical runs in Leeds up to Christmas and then Prenger is Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, at the Liverpool Empire.

“As long as I stand up I’ll be fine,” she jokes.

  • Fat Friends the Musical runs January 23 to 27.
  • Box Office: or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448-112121